Backyard Birds

Sword-billed Hummingbirds

The Sword-billed Hummingbird (Ensifera ensifera) is a South American hummingbird that occurs naturally in Argentina, Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, and Venezuela.


This hummingbird averages 14 cm (5.5 in) in length — not including its more than 8 cm (4 inch) long bill. It weighs about 12 grams (0.4 oz) and is one of the largest species of hummingbirds.

The Sword-billed Hummingbird name has been derived from its extraordinary long beak that sets it apart from any other bird. Its beak is longer even than the rest of its body (excluding its tail) and somewhat resembles a sword.

Their extremely elongated bills and equally long tongues allow them to feed on flowers with long corollas.

The upper plumage is mostly a glittery green. The lower plumage is lighter in the male; and white with greenish-black spots in the female.

Hummingbird Resources

Nesting / Breeding

Hummingbirds are solitary in all aspects of life other than breeding, and the male’s only involvement in the reproductive process is the actual mating with the female. They neither live nor migrate in flocks, and there is no pair bond for this species.

Males court females by flying in a U-shaped pattern in front of them. He will separate from the female immediately after copulation.

One male may mate with several females. In all likelihood, the female will also mate with several males. The males do not participate in choosing the nest location, building the nest or raising the chicks.

The female is responsible for building the cup-shaped nest out of plant fibers woven together and green moss on the outside for camouflage in a protected location in a shrub, bush or tree. She lines the nest with soft plant fibers, animal hair, and feathers down, and strengthens the structure with spider webbing and other sticky material, giving it an elastic quality to allow it to stretch to double its size as the chicks grow and need more room. The nest is typically found on a low, skinny horizontal perch.

The average clutch consists of two white eggs, which she incubates alone, while the male defends his territory and the flowers he feeds on. The young are born blind, immobile and without any down.

The female alone protects and feeds the chicks with regurgitated food (mostly partially digested insects since nectar is an insufficient source of protein for the growing chicks). The female pushes the food down the chicks’ throats with her long bill directly into their stomachs.

As is the case with other hummingbird species, the chicks are brooded only the first week or two and are left alone even on cooler nights after about 12 days – probably due to the small nest size. The chicks leave the nest when they are about 7 – 10 days old.

Sword-billed Hummingbird (Ensifera ensifera)

Sword-billed Hummingbird (Ensifera ensifera)

Diet / Feeding

The Sword-billed Hummingbird primarily feeds on nectar taken from a variety of brightly colored, scented small flowers of trees, herbs, shrubs, and epiphytes. They favor flowers with the highest sugar content (often red-colored and tubular-shaped) and seek out, and aggressively protect, those areas containing flowers with high-energy nectar.

They use their long, extendible, straw-like tongues to retrieve the nectar while hovering with their tails cocked upward as they are licking at the nectar up to 13 times per second. Sometimes they may be seen hanging on the flower while feeding.

Many native and cultivated plants on whose flowers these birds feed heavily rely on them for pollination. For example, flowers with long corollas such as Passiflora mixta, would perish without this bird assisting in the pollination process. (Ref. ‘The fragility of extreme specialization: Passiflora mixta and its pollinating hummingbird Ensifera ensifera’ by Annika Büchert Christensen of The Institute of Biological Science, University of Aarhus demonstrates P. mixta’s total dependence on E. ensifera.

The mostly tubular-shaped flowers actually exclude most bees and butterflies from feeding on them and, subsequently, from pollinating the plants.

They may also visit local hummingbird feeders for some sugar water, or drink out of bird baths or water fountains where they will either hover and sip water as it runs over the edge; or they will perch on the edge and drink – like all the other birds; however, they only remain still for a short moment.

They also take some small spiders and insects – important sources of protein particularly needed during the breeding season to ensure the proper development of their young. Insects are often caught in flight (hawking); snatched off leaves or branches, or taken from spider webs. A nesting female can capture up to 2,000 insects a day.

Males establish feeding territories, where they aggressively chase away other males as well as large insects – such as bumblebees and hawk moths – that want to feed in their territory. They use aerial flights and intimidating displays to defend their territories.

Sword-billed Hummingbird (Ensifera ensifera)

Gordon Ramel

Gordon is an ecologist with two degrees from Exeter University. He's also a teacher, a poet and the owner of 1,152 books. Oh - and he wrote this website.

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